Molly Carden’s autobiographical show takes place during two time frames: her senior year in high school, which she spent in a series of psychiatric hospitals, and years later in her New York City apartment during quarantine. The hospital space is stage right and the pandemic apartment is center stage. Carden moves between these as she explores the duality of movement vs. stagnation, perfection vs. failure, and loving herself vs. destroying herself. There is also the Starbucks counter at stage left, where she spent the transitional summer between hospital and college, a time of high functioning that she uses as a touchstone of progress. Carden refers to that stage of herself as Starbucks Joan of Arc. She calls upon this hero for fortitude when the darkness creeps in and for a kick in the pants when she thinks of succumbing to the illness/stillness.
Carden’s writing is intelligent, emotional, and funny, often all at once. For example, she introduces the disturbing vision that embodies her depression and anxiety: a gaggle of slick, sexy, cigarette-smoking dancers straight from a Robert Palmer video. As quarantine begins, Molly starts to slip into a bad mental space. Carden cavorts, poses and blows imaginary cigarette smoke as the slick dancing girls taunt her delicate self. A trained dancer, Carden uses movement to add a rich layer to her characters and moods. From the intimidating Übermensch ballerina to the teenager struggling through the motions of everyday life, Carden’s physicality are indicators of how she is feeling.
Along with honest self-reflection and visceral descriptions of emotional and physical pain, Carden’s acting brings a feeling of complete authenticity. She is convincing as a 17-year-old giggling with her roommate in the psych ward and as a more mature writer/actor experiencing creative and physical isolation during the pandemic and valiantly fighting off a relapse.
Many solo performers have written shows about their struggles with trauma and mental illness. However, by faithfully reporting her feelings and using well-developed characters and clever settings for the different phases of her journey, Carden presents an extremely personal story in a new and interesting way.
"I Came Back for Molly"
Written and performed by Molly Carden
Directed by Abigail Zealey
March 11, 2023
The Spring 2023 United Solo Festival
March 7th - March 26th, 2023
410 West 42nd (btw 9th and 10th Avenue)
STEPHANIE EAGAN is a professional writer based in NJ. A fan of every type of live performance imaginable, from taiko drumming to political performance art, she travels the tri-state area and beyond in search of music, art, theater, and excellent coffee.